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Biographical entry Morley, Thomas Paterson (1920 - 2012)

BA Oxford; BM BCh 1943; FRCS 1949; FRCP&S (Canada) 1953.

13 June 1920
29 April 2012


Thomas Morley was chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto, Canada. He was born on 13 June 1920 in Manchester, England, to John Morley, professor of surgery at the University of Manchester, and Molly Ogilvie Morley née Simon. At the age of seven, Morley was sent to boarding school in Oxford and then to Rugby School in Warwickshire. Soon after his arrival at boarding school, his mother died from an infection, a loss that stayed with him throughout his life and which drew him very close to his older brother, Jim.

He studied medicine at Oxford, where he met Helen Mary Currer Briggs, who was only one of two women in his year. Upon his graduation in 1943, they entered into a marriage that would last for nearly seven decades. They honeymooned in the Lake District, a place to which they would return throughout their lives to walk by the lakes and climb the fells. Shortly after their wedding, he obtained the position of junior house surgeon to Sir Geoffrey Jefferson, Manchester's leading neurosurgeon. His appointment with Jefferson was somewhat nepotistic, as the Morley home in Manchester was close to Jefferson's. He knocked on Jefferson's door, and asked for a job, whereupon Jefferson replied 'Nobody wants to come to my service, because it is too much like hard work, and I won't give you any time.' He recalled the six-month internship at the Manchester Royal Infirmary as being extremely difficult with many sleepless nights and challenging cases.

In 1944 he enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was posted first in England and then to Pune, India - and remained enamoured of India for the rest of his life. His younger brother, Dick, a gifted pilot, was killed in the Second World War. After the war, Morley completed residencies in general and orthopaedic surgery, and obtained his FRCS in 1949. He then returned to Jefferson's neurological service to pursue his main interest, specialty training in neurosurgery, where he spent the next three and a half years.

There were few job opportunities for neurosurgeons in England at the time of his graduation, however, as fate would decree, during the war Jefferson had met Harry Botterell, who was serving as senior neurosurgeon to the Canadian Neurological Hospital in Basingstoke. In 1952, Botterell succeeded Canada's first neurosurgeon, Kenneth George McKenzie, as the head of neurosurgery in Toronto, Canada. Botterell asked Jefferson to facilitate the recruitment of one of his trainees to Toronto, where he and McKenzie were in dire need of assistance. Accordingly, Botterell wrote to Morley and asked if he would consider going to Toronto to begin a career in neurosurgery. He was very pleased to receive this personal letter from Botterell, not realising that nearly all of his colleagues in Manchester had received the same letter of invitation!

Morley jumped at the opportunity, and began a one-year fellowship in neurosurgery at Toronto General Hospital. He lived in the college wing of the hospital and made daily ward rounds with residents William Horsey and William Lougheed, who would also become leaders in the history of Canadian neurosurgery. In 1953, he was hired to the permanent staff in neurosurgery, and Helen and their two young daughters, Jane and Rosamund, immigrated to Canada to join him. Three years later, their third child, David, was born.

His practice grew and he began specialising in brain tumour surgery and procedures used to treat trigeminal neuralgia. He quickly became a skilful technical neurosurgeon, demonstrating complete economy of motion in the operating room and speeding his way through the most exacting and difficult procedures, to the great benefit of his patients. As a clinical research niche, he moved forward with a project he had initially started with Jefferson in Manchester on the use of radioactive phosphorus for the intracranial localisation of brain tumours in patients. Another area of great research interest for Morley was in the use of echoencephalography, where ultrasound was used to delineate the presence of midline shift of structures in the case of intracranial tumours or trauma. As for basic science research work, he was encouraged by Botterell to visit the University of Texas at Galveston to learn about tissue culture of human brain tumours. At Galveston, he studied with Charles M Pomerat, who was the only scientist studying in vitro models of brain tumours. One of his seminal contributions to this field was his isolation of circulating glioma cells from the jugular vein from patients harbouring intracranial malignant gliomas.

In 1962, he succeeded Botterell as head of the division of neurosurgery at Toronto General Hospital. Two years later, he was appointed as the chairman of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto, a position he held until 1979. He expanded the Toronto residency program to two residents per year and helped form the neurosurgery unit at the Wellesley Hospital in Toronto in 1968. In 1977 and 1979, he summarised the state of neurosurgical training programs in Canada for the neurosurgical literature.

Throughout his career, he held numerous leadership positions in medicine and neurosurgery, including president of the Canadian Neurosurgical Society, vice president of the Society of Neurological Surgeons and vice president of the Neurosurgical Society of America. He also maintained his membership of the Society of British Neurological Surgeons. Upon his retirement from surgery in 1985, he turned to a career in letters and was the general editor of the 24 volume Canadian Medical Lives Series, comprising scholarly biographies of distinguished Canadian doctors - capped by his own biography of McKenzie.

A total of 50 residents finished either all or a significant part of their training under him. All residents who rotated on the neurosurgical service at Toronto General Hospital with him remember the tradition of tea at 4pm during rounds. He is remembered for his encouraging words to the residents in his formal British accent, his self-deprecating ways, his charm and his incredible wit, albeit sometimes quirky. In his name and honour, and for his early devotion to basic science research in neurosurgery, the Morley prize was created in the division of neurosurgery in 1986 to recognise the neurosurgery resident who has presented the best research paper each year.

He embraced his adopted homeland and, by canoe and sailboat, became an ardent explorer of Canada's waterways and wilderness. He also planted thousands of trees, many of which have grown to become mature forests in the Oak Ridges Morraine, Ontario. He died on 29 April 2012 aged 91 and was survived by his wife Helen, their children Jane, Rosamund and David, his son, Luke, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. He had an indelible impact on the art and practice of neurosurgery in Canada.

Fred Gentili
James T Rutka

Sources used to compile this entry: [Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences. Vol.39 Issue 6 November 2012, pp.847-8 - accessed 11 October 2017; Toronto Star 2 May 2012 - accessed 11 October 2017; The Society of Neurological Surgeons Thomas P Morley, MD, FAANS(L), FRCSC - accessed 11 October 2017; Surgery University of Toronto Division of Neurosurgery - accessed 11 October 2017].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England